April tops in his West Point graduating class

       Coronado High School graduate Michael April (Class of 2001) graduated this spring at the top of his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in chemistry. This achievement follows on the heels of his Rhodes Scholar selection last year. As such, the Holland Park resident will begin a two-year course of study in September at Oxford, England, focusing on medical anthropology.
       April also has study and work plans over the summer. Just before he was to fly to Africa this week, the Westside Pioneer contacted the young second lieutenant. His e-mailed answers to three Pioneer questions appear below.
       You were third in your class at the Christmas break. What did it take to graduate at the top of your class, and how do you feel about the honor?
       What did it take? Hard work... Seriously though, I was the kid who almost never left on pass during the weekends. Using the weekends to catch up on academic work was key. However, I never felt I was sacrificing or giving up fun in order to study - I simply enjoy academics.
       Beyond that, it was also an exercise in learning HOW to study in order to ensure that all those hours I was putting toward my books were well spent. (For example, it was generally wiser to focus on published lesson objectives, if they were available, than it was to simply skim back over every single page in a lesson).
       However, class standing is not just determined by academics (in fact, I was NOT the #1 grad academically). Fifty-five percent of your class standing is academics, 30 percent is military grades, and 15 percent is physical fitness.
       I was lucky to receive a number of important leadership positions (cadet basic-training company commander and academic-year battalion commander) that helped my military grades; it's simply easier to earn higher grades with leadership positions, and achieving those positions is largely a political matter, depending upon which officers you know and who you managed to impress. I earned the basic-training slot due to my e-mail correspondence with my tactical offcer while I was [an exchange student] at Air Force, and I subsequently earned the battalion commander spot due to my performance in basic training - my company had the honor of being elected the #1 company in all of basic training for last summer - an honor more attributable to the new cadets comprising the company than to its upperclass cadre such as myself, I assure you.
       Lastly, I just made sure I was never shirking on physical fitness by maintaining an approximately one-hour workout regimen each day which largely focused on the physical fitness tests administered here at the Academy (pushups, situps, two-mile run, indoor obstacle test course, etc.).
       Of course, at the same time, I feel obliged to point out that I conscientiously decided to NOT allow my desire to improve my class rank dictate important decisions as a cadet. For instance, I never shirked from taking advanced classes for fear of earning lower grades (and, in the case of advanced computer programming my freshman year, I DID end up with a lower grade - B+ - my lowest grade for an academic class).
       Moreover, I jumped at the chance to be an exchange cadet at the Air Force Academy despite the fact that the manner in which they process grades generally result in lower GPA's for cadets earning roughly the same grades (an A+ at West Point is equal to 4.33 GPA points whereas an A+ at Air Force contributes only 4.00). But I determined that I was simply going to grasp those opportunities which I thought would best allow me to grow as a person, and that the grades would take care of themselves. And they did. I wouldn't change a thing.
       What are your plans between now and starting at Oxford in the fall?
       On Thursday, June 16, I will fly to The Gambia [in Africa] where I will participate in medical volunteer work in Bwiam General Hospital. This will consist of both in-patient and out-patient care as well as traveling to the surrounding rural communities to contribute to AIDS education.
       I will return in mid-August. I then will have about another month to burn, which I hope to use with an internship with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (a think-tank located in Washington, D.C.), determining how public health initiatives may contribute to nation-building in the developing world.
       District 11 officials are so pleased with your accomplishment, they're taking out an ad with us to tell people you are one of their products. Do you think the district did a good job preparing you for West Point?
       Absolutely. My only regret is that more AP classes were not available, but those AP classes that were offered were SIGNIFICANTLY more difficult in their respective areas than any class I took at West Point.
       Also, the time crunch inherrent in taking six to seven classes which must be attended every single day as well as sports practice afterwards is possibly even more rigorous than that encountered at a service academy. Of course, you get what you put into an experience, so only students who throw all of their effort behind their high school experience will earn the great dividends. But I firmly believe that a student coming out of D-11 has the background and skills necessary to be successful at any higher educational institution in the nation.

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